The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, December 31, 2000

Thus spake an ardent believer
Review by Roopinder Singh

A sensitive poet looks at his universe
Review by Jaspal Singh

Explorer of the history of mind
Review by Rumina Sethi

How to catch a customer?
Review byChandra Mohan

Growth and bureaucratic drag
Review by Randeep Wadehra


Thus spake an ardent believer
by Roopinder Singh

Thoughts of Bhai Ardaman Singh compiled by Bhai Ashok Singh. Institute of Sikh Studies, Chandigarh. Pages 250. Rs 395.

BHAI Ardaman Singh Bagrian as a person is hard to define. A man steeped in tradition, but who projected himself through the modern idiom. Born in 1899, he passed away in 1976, having seen the transition from feudal India, of which he was very much a part, to independent, socialist India. He was among the towering personalities who dominated the socio-religious canvas of Punjab for a significant part of this century

And what a personality he was as were his contemporaries! Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha, Principal Teja Singh, Giani Gian Singh, Bawa Hari Krishan Singh — they dominated the intellectual and social ethos of Punjab then. And they would often get together at Bagrian House to discuss matters and exchange ideas. This was the time when differences were resolved with civility, when people agreed to disagree with grace.

Bhai Ardaman Singh was a Sikh, a scion of a family that traced its roots to Bhai Rup Chand who was blessed by Guru Hargobind. His father, Bhai Arjan Singh, had a pre-eminent position in Sikh society of his days and the son managed to adapt to changing circumstances with aplomb.

He expressed himself with clarity and forcefulness which can be seen in his collection of writings, "Thoughts of Bhai Ardaman Singh," compiled by his son, Bhai Ashok Singh. The writer is opposed to what he called plagiarism — the propensity of scholars of Sikhism to base their works on those of scholars who adhered to other traditions. A proponent of an independent Sikh religious identity, Bhai Ardaman Singh was steadfast in opposing "brahminical influences" on Sikhism.

What then is his concept of a Sikh? "Sikhs as a whole, are known as the Panth. The Panth includes all sorts of Sikhs, whether perfect or imperfect, novice or fully responsible, sehajdhari or amritdhari. Anyone who believes in the Guru and the Gurbani and has faith in no one else, cannot be denied to be a Sikh and, therefore, is a member of the Panth. For every Sikh there is a bar. Once he or she crosses this bar, he (she) is elevated to the selection grade, and after having received amrit he (she) becomes a Khalsa, a member of the Akal Purkh’s fauj (army of God), who surrender their life and are tested and consecrated with the sword, a class of God-conscious men, saint-warriors, out to protect the good and spread goodness and punish evil-doers and extirpate evil."

Whether he is exploring historical aspects of the religion or expounding on various concepts central to the faith, the author comes across as a believer well-versed in the Gurbani and the Sikh lore. He quotes extensively from the scriptures and is an ardent advocate of an independent Sikh identity — be it religious or cultural.

It is interesting to note what he has to say on the concept of maryada. "There is no special spiritual sanctity attached to maryada in Sikhism. But it is like the Constitution of a civilised and organised government of a country, to which loyalty is sworn. It has been formed and has been evolved from time to time by the Sikhs as a whole called "Panth". It is the point around which the whole organisation revolves and keeps together. Without a Constitution or rules and regulations, no society or individual can properly function. Without this regulation everything becomes a total chaos. It is a matter of strategy for protection and advancement of the Sikhs, to co-ordinate and integrate and keep them on the path. Maryada has evolved and changed according to the requirements, needs and conditions through which the Panth has passed. It will have to adapt itself and change in future also when necessity and urgency of the situation calls. A static constitution is always fatal to the cause. Our maryada, therefore, has to be dynamic and a living, pulsating and functioning Constitution. But it has to conform to and be subservient to the spirits and tenets laid down in the Satguru’s Shabad incorporated in the Guru Granth Sahib."

Various heads as diverse as Guru Nanak’s way of life, simran, the Sikh sword, worship, singing the lord’s praises, karam gratefulness sant sadh sangat, women among the Sikhs, renunciation, clothes, food and unity, intolerance and culture are discussed in this compilation. The chapter on ardas is particularly interesting for readers who are not too familiar with the various aspects alluded to in the prayer.

As a reader peruses various topics in the book, he would see the work of an ardent believer and proponent of Sikhism who has expressed himself forcefully. The reader would have to keep in mind the time frame which set the tone of the writing, though the thoughts expressed through it transcend temporal limitations.


Punjabi Literature
A sensitive poet looks at his universe
by Jaspal Singh

PARMINDERJIT is one of the finest modern Punjabi poets though his output is frugal. In the quarter of a century since he started writing, he has produced only two collections of poems. ‘‘Likhtam Parminderjit" appeared in 1981 and the second collection, "Meri Marfat", has been released just now after a gap of 19 years. In between he edited a few collections of poems.

Apart from doing poetry, he has played an important role in the literary life of Punjab being the editor of two well-known Punjabi literary journals — "Loa" and "Akkhar". The former ceased to appear a few years ago and the latter is only a couple of years old.

The present collection, "Meri Marfat", carries 48 poems and each one of them is born out of deep meditation. As a writer, Parminderjit is not wedded to any well-defined ideology or "ism". Strictly speaking, he may not even be called a "progressive" poet as most Punjabi writers claim to be. Yet there is something in his writing that brings him intimately close to life with an unusual feel and sensitivity.

The poet does not raise global issues, nor is he concerned with the interplay of cosmic forces. He is engaged in his own small battles which he has to make every now and then like millions of other citizens of India.

The sequence of these battles constitutes the long protracted war of survival. As he fights his way through the battle of life, he unfolds its enigmatic paradoxes, thus allowing the reader a peep into the imperceptible processes going on beneath the outer layer of formal propriety and order. The struggle for existence thus becomes an exploratory expedition through different existential situations of life characterised by pleasure and pain, fun and fatigue, titillation and tedium and defiance and distress.

In a poem "Khirhki" (window) the poet says, "Khirhki khuldian hi/supnilian te peedian galvakkrhian ‘chon/humas aun lagda e/kite andron hi sunai dinda e lorhan te thurhan da raag bharvi/milda e/anchopri roti ‘te achaar di farhi jinna sakun." (As the window opens, the smell of firm dreamy embraces overwhelms you and classical music produced by wants and deprivations of life emanates from inside you, which calms you down like bread and water do to the starving.)

Now this "opening of the window" has nothing to do with the material and physical window or the act of opening it. This "window" is the dawning of consciousness, a kind of realisation into the existential processes of life that pervade the entire universe of an individual.

He further observes, ‘‘Khirhki khuldian hi jeen da arth samajh aunda e/khirhki khuldian hi/man apni hi tishngi ‘ch lagda e iven/jhiven kambda e phul di patti te pia/koi trel-tupka.... /khirkhi khuldian hi shuru hundi e/Andran di anant-yatra/Isi yatra nu bol dindi e khirhki...." (The hidden meaning of life flashes across one’s mind as the window opens and the mind trembles with desire like the dewdrop on a flower. With the opening of the window begins the articulation of the eternal wanderlust of the guts.....)

Parminderjit’s skill fully internalises the obvious images and artistically transforms them into aesthetic motifs that shake the reader out of his complacence.

In another poem, "Jo koi injh hi aave", he says that as a beaten-track is formed on unknown fragrant tracts of land and as the river erodes its banks and makes tiny islets and a watery wave turns into a sandy expanse, so from its sandy features emerges the vision of water. As a feeling of verdure rustles the branches of a middle-aged tree, so the space of a body diffuses across the firmament, as the reflection of a dream moves on the body in sleep, and as the liquidity of breath shapes the destination of affection, and as a lot happens like living in life and so on....

In the poem "Asin" (we) the poet says, "If life does not give you much, it does not ask for much either.... How many skies do you need to take a flight or how much of land do you need to realise your dreams? How much water do you need to quench your thirst?.... A patch of sunlight in the patio, a wheat complexioned figure sitting in dim light, a smile on an innocent face like a flower drenched in dew, a trembling hand of a mother raised to bless somebody, a dreaming face seen through a father’s dim eyes, a row of flowers in the backyard, a greyish sparrow twittering from the parapet, doors waiting for the loved one, an evening cuddled in warm memories and a lyrical face melting in cozy fluidity and so on — what else do you expect from life." The poet asks this rhetorical question.

Parminderjit has his own ideas about life and living which are based on strong feelings for the human spirit. Everything in his surroundings activates his sensory perceptions. He states, "What is there in living? When you write a new poem life becomes worth living or when you read a beautiful poem or hear a melodious tune from afar or watch a bird darting across the welkin, you feel like living.’’ Man, the poet complains, looks away from all the vital moments of life and hence he shrinks slowly and steadily. In fact he longs for decay and death not for lust and life.

Poetry is a means of survival for the poet. It beckons him with a pen and paper in hand to bring it to life in a visual form. It promises him to take upon itself all his woes and worries and exhorts him to bypass the inhibiting hindrances on the way to reach it on the isles of love where it has been waiting for him for long.

An autobiographical poem on the death of his mother is full of remorse since the poet has been creating problems for her when she was alive. He observes that nobody has ever been able to pay back the debt of the womb. He himself has proved to be a very ordinary son who always brought his mother late hour worries by keeping her anxiously awake till midnight. And now the mother who always stood by her son in pain and pleasure like an old shady tree, has left for ever leaving a permanent scar on the memory screen of the poet.

In "Chup da geet" (song of silence), the poet states that he is a desert with storm raging about its dunes and at the moment, he is busy in composing a song of silence which requires solitude and freedom from the clutter of words, meanings and utterances. He pronounces, "I am trying to carve out a smiling visage of a benediction for you so that your sky is bedecked with stars and in the process I am moving an age away from myself." The mind, the poet says, trickles down through the crevices and fissures. People cook up stories and themselves become their heroes while he keeps on watching helplessly as heat is being generated by bodies; screaming arms raised to the skies; people raising human walls everywhere; fingers dipped in blood and a bayonet shining on the forehead.

The poet remarks that he is not the cheerful one that people usually encounter; rather he is a whirlwind imprisoned within the walls of flesh or an island surrounded by salty waters of wild allegations where no ship or sail could ever touch, where the life span melts from one’s own heat, where one has to carve out from his own clay a statue of his innocent desire, where the strong wind ruffles the facial features, where a season of mishaps goes on eternally, where tears trickle down before bursting into a laughter and where one cannot dream even when asleep.

The being of the poet shuttles between two extremes of time — the past and the non-past. He states, "I am slowly gathering all that I have lost in the trembling shadows of the past and non-past. But it seems there is not much left that can now be retrieved late in the day when the shadows are lengthening and the birds are flying back to their perches to roost for the night.’’

Parminderjit’s poetry is highly reflective with images and paradoxes created through experiential meditation. It is an existential outpouring of a man caught in the whirlwind of the turbulent times. At every step the poet faces the tragic moments of truth, when even one’s relations are shuffled and reshuffled depending on the situation they are placed in the material hierarchy of life.

The fluidity of human condition breeds angst and remorse that unleash a gentle poetic rill down the slopes of human existence. Herein lies the importance of being Parminderjit, the poet of "guilt", "action" and "anguish".


Explorer of the history of mind
by Rumina Sethi

Six Memos for the Next Millennium by Italo Calvino. Vintage, London. Pages 124. £ 5.99. Translated from Italian by Patrick Creagh.

ESTHER Calvino writes in her note on the text of "Six Memos for the Next Millennium". "About the title: Although I carefully considered the fact that the title chosen by Italo Calvino, ‘Six Memos for the Next Millennium’, does not correspond to the manuscript as I found it, I have felt it necessary to keep it. Calvino was delighted by the word ‘memos’, after having thought of and dismissed titles such as ‘Some Literary Values’, ‘A Choice of Literary Values’,’Six Literary Legacies’, all of them ending with ‘the Next Millennium."

Calvino was to deliver the Eliot Norton Lectures at Harvard in 1985 and the text of the lectures was found ready to be put into his suitcase, all on his desk, by his wife. As she points out, these lectures became an obsession with him in the last year of his life. Five of these were complete and the sixth he had planned to write in Cambridge. He wanted to call the sixth lecture "Consistency".

Drawing on the works of Lucretius, Ovid, Baccacio, Flaubert, Kundera and Perec, Calvino draws on the universal laws and indispensable literary values future generations might hold in high esteem such as "lightness", "quickness", "exactitude", "visibility"and "multiplicity".

The millennium has arrived but it was 15 years away when the Cuba- born Italian novelist Italo Calvino wrote these lectures, but sadly could not deliver them as he died just before his departure for the USA. We see staring us in the face what often has been debated, the death of the book in the so-called post-industrial age. Calvino ignores this issue with a deep confidence in the future of literature which "consists of the knowledge that there are things that only literature can give us, by means specific to it". He, therefore, devotes his lectures to "certain values, qualities, or peculiarities of literature that are very close to his heart, trying to situate them within the perspective of the new millennium".

It is Calvino’s minute, luminous tracing from the Medusa myth, placed in the foreground of his first chapter on "Lightness", that he sets in contrast of the "world of weight and opacity" symbolised by the idea of Perseus turning into stone if he looks directly at the face of the Gorgon. To cut off her head without being turned to stone, Perseus "supports himself on the very lightest of things, the winds and the clouds", and fixes his gaze upon what can be revealed only by indirect vision, "an image caught in a mirror". Kundera’s novel "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" amply illustrated how everything we choose and value in life for its lightness soon reveals its true, unbearable weight. It is in reality "a bitter confirmation of the ineluctable weight of living", a confirmation of the human condition common to us all.

In the same way, it is so true in a world of science that software cannot exercise its powers of lightness except through the weight of hardware. The heavy machine of the first industrial revolution still exists but it obeys the orders of weightless "bits", a product of the second industrial revolution. Emptiness, a lightness, therefore, is just as concrete as solid bodies. The new millennium will be what we bring to it and lightness is one "memo" or virtue that will balance out the weight of a material world.,

Going further to the economy of expression in folktales, Calvino illustrates his idea of "quickness". He argues through innumerable illustrations that most outlandish adventures are recounted with an eye fixed on the bare essentials. There is always "a battle against fire, against the obstacles that prevent or delay the fulfilment of a desire or the repossession of something cherished but lost."

A story can only be told through the agility of both thought and expression, a correctness of style through a "quick adjustment". Very interestingly, Calvino illustrates this through De Quincey’s "The English Mail Coach" (1849) where the idea of speed and the dangers of a motorised highway world are ultimate in precision like story-telling with a quickness that conveys the extremely short period of time, of physical speed as well as mental which are involved in avoiding a fatal crash. Speed and consciousness of style please us because in the words of Giacomo Leopardi, "they present the mind with a rush of ideas that are simultaneous and set the mind afloat on such an abundance of thought or images or spiritual feelings that either it cannot embrace them all or it has no time to be idle and empty of feelings".

Apparently, Calvino is trying to suggest that the power of poetic style is the same thing as rapidity, an idea that is also found in the works of Galileo Galilei who uses the metaphor of the horse for the speed of thought, an agility of reading along with economy in argument and the use of imaginative examples. This is poetic style which is synonymous with the method of thought and literary taste.

As Calvino writes: "Quickness of style and thought means above all agility, mobility and ease, all qualities that go with writing where it is natural to digress, to jump from one subject to another, to lose the thread a hundred times and find it again after a hundred more twists and turns."

Calvino has, thus, found no difference between poetry and prose. In both, the writer must look for the "unique expression, one that is concise, concentrated and memorable" because "success consists in felicity of verbal expression, which every so often may result from a quick flash of inspiration but as a rule involves a patient search for the mot juste for the sentence in which every world is unalterable, the most effective marriage of sounds and concepts."

In his excellent third lecture "Exactitude", he begins by depicting exactitudes as a well-calculated plan for any work that would evoke incisive and memorable images in precise language. This is a reactionto the modern epidemic afflicting the use of words and reveals itself in a loss of cognition and immediacy.

Talking about the importance of "visibility" in poetic art, Calvino takes recourse to Dante’s definition of imagination in the "Divine Comedy" where he talks of the visions presented to him that were almost like film projections or television images. The poet has to "imagine visually both what his actor sees and what he thinks he sees".

The grandiose visionary gifts of Dante and Michelangelo are here stressed by Calvino. Surely sacred art was used as a means of visual communication to grasp the meaning of the verbal teachings in Catholicism of the Counter-Reformation: "The believer is called upon personally to paint frescoes crowded with figures on the walls of his mind, starting out from the stimuli that his visual imagination succeeds in extracting from a theological proposition or a laconic verse from the gospels."

Calvino’s varying persuasiveness shows itself in the last chapter, "Multiplicity". Here he takes the contemporary novel as an encyclopaedia, as a method of knowledge and a network of connections between events, people and things: "Whatever the starting point, the matter in hand spreads out and out, encompassing ever vaster horizons, and if it were permitted to go on further and further in every direction, it would end by embracing the entire universe." He falls back here on Carol Emilio Gadda’s (the Italian equivalent of James Joyce) work to show that "each system conditions the others and is conditioned by them". In Gadda he finds the world expanding until it can no longer be grasped since the author is anxious to plumb the multiplicity of the writable within the briefness of life that consumes it.

Though most of the mythological material, intent on demonstrating its author’s serious scholarly purpose is rather dry for modern tastes, there are moments when it is clear that the lectures are written by the master of story telling who has created a comprehensive and accessible survey of a wide field of world literature in a deeply imaginative prose. Calvino continues to cast a long and strangely fascinating shadow over the world of contemporary Italian fiction.

The book’s ingenious synthesising of common and less familiar material from contemporary and classical sources tempers the tone of doctrinnaire polemic audible in places. His responsiveness to the literary aspirations of the coming millennium makes his book a pointer and a sermon for aspiring writers of tomorrow.

Clear-headed and very readable, rich in literary heritage and illusion, the book is an unusual, deft, often piercing meditation on "Lightness", "Exactitude", "Visibility", "Quickness" and "Multiplicity". Apart from giving us an idea of the breadth of Calvino’s interests from Charlemagne to Gadda, it stands out as a model of historicist criticism. Calvino writes out of desire, making his lectures instructive and emblematic. He argues stridently, strenuously. Indeed, one of the things that emerges most strikingly from his lectures is the sharpness of Calvino’s critical intelligence in the areas of literature. Indeed he uses writing as a rehearsal for his life. It is sad that the relative serenity of the lectures was brutally cut short by his untimely and sudden death.



How to catch a customer?
by Chandra Mohan

Twenty Ads Which Shook the World by James B. Twitchell. Heritage hardback by Crown Publishers.

IN today’s world of idling plants and frequent job shedding, the customer holds the key. The unfortunate part is that the educated and informed customer of today has become extremely choosy and demanding, even whimsical. He is totally unpredictable. Call him God, call him king, he has become the CEO’s total focus.

Marketing begins with snatching customer attention away from whatever he is doing towards your product: the ad in the newspaper; the TV spot; the window display or, even the fruit-seller singing away the juiciness of his meticulously polished and shiny oranges. This initial draw has also become pricey. Spot-ads at Rs 50,000 for 10 seconds apiece of tens of not very different soaps compete for attention. Entry launch cost of a car in the USA to $ 25 million. The pity is that all are wild-cards; there are no guarantees. And, that holds true whether it is "Utterly, butterly Amul" or "Hamara Bajaj".

In such a world, true-life stories of some global product names which are the entire creation of advertisement gives refreshing thought. And, as one reads the names, the phenomenal power of creativity in advertisement dawns: an arresting appeal which can travel down generations.

Just think, what is Pears soap? Nothing extraordinary when compared to other soaps. It was Millais’s 1988 ad which linked its transparency to the fairness of the complexion of a baby that has made Pears a centurion; right answer to the working class prayer to be able to emulate the fair skin of nobility in their children. Since its sheen and transparency could only be produced by manual polishing, its global production was shifted by Unilever to India decades ago to offset the rising costs of European labour.

Diamonds tops it all; a total advertising illusion. Otherwise, a worthless piece of crystalline carbon, no practical utility whatsoever. Yet, the most cherished and prized possession of every woman in the world; pricey and exclusive. To be possessed for ever and never to be sold. A shimmer on the engagement ring; cherished symbol of bond of wedlock unto death and then to be passed on as heirloom. Global supply control for exclusivity and fancy prices. De Beers has created that myth.

A bottle of sweet water called Coke; Nike’s Rs 10,000 equivalent of the Rs 10 Bata of our childhood; the list goes on.

Brand loyalty, hopefully moving into brand enlargement, can only be subsequent steps. One has to move far deeper into understanding of customers and then develop specific curricula for reach; frequent-flier airline programmes and Pepsi’s Tazzo discs.

The goal of a permanent hook requires clear answers in objectives; can they be measured? Cost of bringing one customer, not a visitor? Cost of having that customer return? And if that works, can we scale it?

In our eternal hunt for armchair solutions and soft options; e-commerce with its B2B and B2C, became a craze overnight. Pigeons have already started coming home to roost, if not roast. In the blind hit among the millions of domain names on the web, the chance of a browser landing on your site and clicking is not a joke. To make that click a repeat and also pay enough to defray expenses makes it far tougher.

Even Jeff Bezos is discovering to his cost that his ever-expanding revenue-multiplier machine based on ever-rising stock- market appreciaton has to halt. He is fast driving towards the eternal bottom line focus. Fortunately, he has some left over cash to give him some breathing time. Many of his likes who were not so fortunate, have already sunk into oblivion.The Silicon Valley is littered with corpses.

The name of the game is to think. Think costs; think returns.


Write view
Growth and bureaucratic drag
by Randeep Wadehra

Sustainable Human Develo-pment: Issues and Challenges by Kamal Taori. Concept Publishing, New Delhi. Pages xx351. Rs 500.

Communication Development and the Challenge of the Twentyfirst Century by V.S. Gupta. Concept Publishing, New Delhi. Pages 195. Rs 300.


Sustainable Human Develo-pment: Issues and Challenges by Kamal Taori. Concept Publishing, New Delhi. Pages xx351. Rs 500.

THERE was a time when development was ideology-driven. Champions of free market economy felt that human genius must be given full play to enable a society achieve material prosperity. On the other hand, socialists believed in a planned economy where all types of resources were harnessed in an optimum manner for the benefit of all people. Thus, the world was divided more or less into two halves.

Those were the days when nations could afford to keep themselves in comfortable politico-economic conceptual slots. Thanks to the technological revolution, the world has shrunk. This has made theoretical and ideological experimentation less relevant to economic progress. Whatever brings economic benefits is adopted to the needs of an economy. Therefore, development today is technology-driven and does not recognise traditional political colourings.

Taori, in the first chapter, points out that in the past most of India’s anti-poverty programmes suffered from basic weaknesses of ignoring economics and a policy if announced in the name of the poor sufficed. It is important that such programmes are primed to achieve specific objectives.

Similarly, the author advocates the need for not taking urbanisation as the most important index of economic progress. Quoting from a UN report, he avers that economic growth does necessarily ensure human development. However, human development is critical to economic growth. The report further points out that often the lack of political will and not financial resources retards a nation’s progress.

In order to make the optimum use of natural resources, the human angle must always be kept in mind.

In chapters four and five, Taori talks of a holistic approach to rural development which would bring about a fruitful equation between agricultural development and industrialisation. Towards this end the central, state and local governments will have to come up with suitable developmental institutions, personnel and activities.

In the chapter, "Training needs of rural development sector", the author dwells at length on the need for inculcating "will and skill" for various vocations among the rural folks — especially the youth. Since specialisation in skills has become essential, all training programmes should be so oriented as to develop suitable competencies among the village youth. In fact the programmes will have to be chalked out keeping in mind the special economic, social and cultural environment which prevails in a particular area. We all know that attempts to teach pisciculture, especially "prawn farming", in the states of Haryana and Punjab failed, though some would say these met with partial success.

Moreover one has to keep in mind the caste factor while suggesting various vocational options. Low- cost, high-yield avenues of self-employment will have to be specially designed for the ruralites.

Last but not the least, in order to make sustainable human development a success, the various government agencies will have to actively seek popular consent and support. Without public participation it would be almost impossible for such development to endure or even actually take place.

The issues before our social scientists are far beyond the socio-cultural factors. Even economic handicaps can be overcome. What we really need is political will and a vision and an enthusiastic bureaucratic implementation of such a vision.

This volume is divided into three parts. The first part highlights market issues, the second deals with training attitude and the third analyses policy issues. There are about 40 chapters dealing with topics ranging from "Religion and development" to "Non-resident Indians and rural development".

This book presents interesting ideas and perspectives.

« « «

Communication Development and the Challenge of the Twentyfirst Century by V.S. Gupta. Concept Publishing, New Delhi. Pages 195. Rs 300.

The 21st century has become a metaphor for the exotic and the demanding aspects of human existence. Breathlessly we wait for a revolutionary change in our lifestyle and circumstance, as though mere passage of time would somehow transform our mundane existence. A magic wand would someway resolve old and persistent problems that bedevil our existence. Yet, the 21st century does mark the beginning of a new era. Like most things new, the new century, nay the new millennium itself, has raised our expectations while posing new challenges.

Gupta points out that even in the new millennium, development issues like alleviation of poverty, eradication of illiteracy, environment protection, preservation of human dignity and culture, healthcare and population growth continue to give government institutions as well as thinking persons a lot to mull over. Since these issues are a continuation from the previous century, it needs to be analysed as to where did all the planning go wrong while tackling them.

Since development is now a human right, it is the primary responsibility of the government to create conditions favourable to achieving development for all. Another equally significant claim is the right to communicate. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human rights states, "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression. This right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

In fact communication is an essential ingredient in the process of development. Though economic, managerial and other inputs are essential to carry forward the complex task of development, communication helps in bringing about understanding among the various agencies and groups that take part in that process.

Thus along with social change, cultural, spiritual and ethical issues are now included to understand the development process more intimately.

Development communication is said to cover every subject under the rubric "development" — be it agriculture, environment, healthcare, literacy and education. The author states that the importance of communication to human life cannot be overemphasised. Without communication no society can exist because no social structure would survive and flourish.

The basic features of communication are: (1) it is a process for transmission of ideas, thoughts and feelings from one person to another; (2) communication is persuasive and seeks to obtain desirable response to what is being transmitted; and (3) it is a two-way process both vertically and horizontally, in a spirit of give and take or send and receive.

In this context, development communication assumes great significance. It has been variously considered as "a concept, approach, an ideal or even a philosophy". It also underlines a certain ideology of the use of communication for development. The term "development journalism" came into vogue in the late 1960s when reporting on development economics became important for various news agencies and publications. In fact this term was first used in an international discussion at Philippines University of Los Banos.

The function of development journalism goes beyond keeping a watch on government activities. It is expected to promote development. Peter Golding pointed out that development journalism could promote national progress by (1) stressing the educational function of news by raising the awareness of events and issues; (2) producing stories about social needs or problems in the hope of stirring up government action; and (3) highlighting self-help projects that can be implemented by other communities and reporting on obstacles to development.

According to J.F. Jamias, development journalism is characterised by the following five formalistically defined criteria: (1) purposefulness (goal oriented); (2) pragmatism (judged by results); (3) relevance (to the development of the country); (4) mass orientation (by addressing common problems); and (5) scientific outlook of development journalists.

Like other forms of journalism, the functions of development journalism are to inform, educate and entertain. It investigates, analyses and interprets various development plans. However, in the initial stages development journalism did resemble propaganda as journalists had to source their stories from government departments. Gradually it is coming into its own.

With the increase in information flow and the widening of information background, seeds of change germinate. Each part of the country is made aware of the happenings in other parts, thus cementing national bonds, as it helps generate a nationwide dialogue on policy, keeps national goals in public focus, and keeps the people informed about national accomplishments and, of course, the failures.

Modern communications are capable of making the entire administrative system transparent and open to public scrutiny. This is the ideal way of ensuring development. Like in all democracies, popular participation is vital for the success of all development-oriented schemes. Communication is essential for promoting this participation.

Gupta has divided this volume into two thematic sections. The first has two chapters, "Development communication: definitions and concept" and The Indian communication landscape". The second section deals with such perennial issues as literacy, communication for rural development, health, population, human rights, environment protection, etc. with special focus on the role of communication.

A thought-provoking effort.


Imitation as derivative cultural paradigm
by Akshaya Kumar

Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice by Chris Barker. Sage, London. Pages 424. £ 18.99.

CONCEIVED as a supra-disciplinary enterprise, cultural studies first took institutional shape with the formation of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham University in the 1960s. It was perceived as an intellectual guerrilla movement waging war on the borders of official academia. It sought to forge connections outside the academy with social and political movements, workers and activists at the grassroots level.

Chris Barker, in his book, offers a synoptic view of cultural studies in terms of its chosen sites, philosophical foundations, preferred methodologies and emerging pedagogical practices. The author holds culture to be primarily a language game. ‘‘To understand culture is to explore how meaning is produced symbolically in a language as ‘a signifying system’ .’’ A good deal of cultural studies is centred on questions of representation and articulation of identities. Non-reductionism and anti-essentialism form the central tenets of cultural studies.

Cultural studies derives its basic philosophical impetus from its critical engagement with orthodox Marxism which treated economics as the sole basis of consciousness, culture and politics. Culturalists resist economic determinism built-in some of the readings of Marxism. Another intellectual strand against which cultural studies stand up is Arnoldian or Leavisite definition of culture as a high point of civilisation. The traditionalists hold culture, as a form of civilisation, to be counterpoised to the ‘’’ of the ‘‘raw and uncultivated masses’’. Cultural studies do away with the elitist notions of high and low cultures, and take a very positive view of popular culture.

Sturat Hall, a votary of cultural studies, looks at popular culture as an arena of consent and resistance in the struggle over cultural meaning. Among culturalists, Raymond Williams, in contrast to the classical notion of culture, stresses the everyday lived character of culture as ‘‘a whole way of life’’. For him, ‘‘Culture is ordinary, in every society, and in every mind.’’ Culture is concerned as much with tradition as it is with the ‘‘processes of discovery and creative effort’’.

Hoggart in his ‘‘The Uses of Literacy’’ accords legitimacy to the ordinariness of culture by undertaking a detailed study of working class culture. ‘‘History from below’’ constitutes the basic methodology of Thomson’s ‘‘The Making of the English Working Class’’.

Ideology plays a crucial role in mediating between the economic and cultural, the popular and the high. In fact G. Turner in his ‘‘British Cultural Studies: An Introduction" says ideology is the most important concept in the foundation of British cultural studies which could be seen for a while as ‘‘ideological studies’’. Barker’s book does undertake an extended treatment of the evolution of ideology from Marx to Althusser and Gramsci in his attempt to trace the New Left leanings of cultural studies. However surprisingly, he brings in post-modernism also under the rubric of cultural studies. Under the chapter ‘‘Enter post-modernism’’ he includes French post-structuralists like Derrida, Lacan and Foucault to underline the subtle intervention of post-modernism in Leftist cultural studies.

The book carries a glossary of critical jargon under the title: ‘‘The Language Game of Cultural Studies’’. Such a title is double-edged in the sense that if it, on the one hand, establishes the centrality of ‘‘language’’ in cultural studies and, on the other hand, it also reveals the limitation of cultural studies as nothing more than a language game. Barker’s effort is laudable because the book has been written in a student-friendly language, and is extremely handy for the needs of students. It gives a comprehensive account of various critical theories in vogue. But it fails to offer a critical account of cultural studies in terms of the serious distortions that have crept into its basic foundations.

Barker does refer to Jim McGuigan’s critique on two counts: one, cultural studies has been unable to distinguish between consumer culture and popular culture, and, two, that it does not offer any transformative alternative paradigm. But he fails to identify other ideological lapses in the entire programme of cultural studies. From revolutionary Marxist cultural studies slips into post-modernism, foreclosing its very radical agenda of establishing working class aesthetics. Aijaz Ahmad regrets the appropriation of cultural studies by ‘‘cosmopolitan, continental pedagogy and style’’. After Raymond Williams, it lost its activist edge and most of the academics got sucked into the storm of French structuralism as it swept the British Isles.

In its attempt to establish the popular literature as an acceptable site of social meaning, cultural studies ends up in promoting metropolitan popular culture. Commodified recreation of MTV or fashion channel by no stretch of imagination represents the working class ethos. By succumbing to the pressures of pop culture, cultural studies ironically enough conforms to the tastes of metropolitan lifestyles.

Another aspect that has toned down the radical claims of cultural studies is its institutionalisation. Once an activity becomes institutionalised, it can no longer remain political. Cultural studies, as Francis Mulhern writes, cannot be taken as ‘‘intervention’’. Of late it has become a budget-holding discipline offering credentials, careers and research funds. The oppositional punch that it promised is more than neutralised by the benefits institutions offer to the exponents of cultural studies.

Then, there are some highly contestable presumptions that form the core of the project of cultural studies. Paul Willis in his critical introduction questions Barker’s ‘‘language game’’ account of the ‘‘discursive formation’’ of cultural studies. Any paradigm of approaching experience through language can at best be supplementary to the understanding of culture. The appropriation of cultural studies by the English departments, is therefore unwarranted and presumptuous. Willis would rather prefer to ‘‘ground the complex, unwieldy and weighty category of ‘culture’ ultimately upon notions of ‘experience’ and ‘practice’, sensuously understood and (ethnographically) studied’’.

The project of cultural studies tends to reduce culture into political instrument. In other words, it leaves no room for politics beyond cultural practice. Such a perspective only breeds forces of fascism and nazism, a totalitarian scenario which goes against the very democratic claims of cultural studies. For instance, there is always a possibility of political solidarity beyond the particularism of cultural differences, but the enthusiasts of cultural studies dismiss the very possibility of such a solidarity as culturally incompatible one.

In some Indian universities English departments, alert as they are to catchy global trends, have taken the initiative to re-christen themselves as Department or School of Cultural Studies. Change is always welcome provided it is carried out with conviction and commitment. Otherwise it remains nothing more than a posture or window-dressing. There are bound to be serious cultural incongruities in converting English departments in Indian universities into departments of cultural studies as long as the entire project is not sufficiently indigenised and departments of native languages are not included under it. English departments cannot claim to represent working class culture or the sensibilities of the people at the grassroots level as much as departments of Hindi and Punjabi can possibly do. Unfortunately the anglicised academia is not open enough to engage any constructive relationship with other language departments.

There is an unmistakable streak of Macaulayan arrogance even in the so-called most emancipatory or reformatory gestures of English dons in India. Under the pretext of post-colonial studies, which some departments have undertaken to buttress their claims to cultural studies, authors and texts lionised and patronised by the western academia are recommended to Third World students as authentic references. Translation studies, another possible component of the cultural studies package, is also quite lopsided in the sense that it promotes translation of native literature into English and not into other native languages.

Some universities have started courses on popular culture with no thrust on folk literature and local oral traditions. What becomes popular in the West acquires a status symbol in India. In the name of popular culture, therefore, western popular tastes are being taught to Indian students. "Harry Potter" may be popular in the West, in India it has acquired a status symbol.

On the ideological level too, there are problems. Since the project of cultural studies has been appropriated by French post-structuralism, one wonders the applicability of free-floating post-disciplinary cultural studies to Indian situation. One cannot brush aside the distinctness of Indian nationhood, nor its continuous cultural history. Inter-disciplinarity has been the core of Indian wisdom, but in no case should knowledge verge on post-disciplinarity. Paul Willis in his introduction to the book cautions the exponents of cultural studies not to unleash "theoretical anarchism" in the name of liberating education from conservative fold.

Cultural studies are not an innocuous, apolitical programme of change. It is very much an offshoot of the logic of global capitalism which perpetuates itself under the liberal pretext of flow of trade information. It is a clever ploy to hegemonise and appropriate different local cultures across the globe through a fairly homogenised theoretical rubric. What kind of radicalism can cultural studies instill among students if it is to apply rather slavishly imported western paradigms on texts as different as Anathamoorthy’s "Samskar", Mahasweta’s ‘‘Mother of 1084" or Chinua Achebe’s "Things Fall Apart" through a fairly homogenised and monotonous network of post-modern paradigms? The scope of plurality of experience is pre-empted by the dominant discourse of post-modernism.

Barker is cautious enough in not making universal claims of cultural studies. He is modest enough to restrict his study to British cultural studies. He says: "I draw very little from a growing body of work in Africa, Asia and Latin America and, as such, it would be more accurate to call this text western cultural studies." Unfortunately, Indian English academia does not recognise the distinct western character of cultural studies. Imitating things from the West without sufficiently indigenising them for native use is nothing but a vulgar display of derivative radicalism. It would be much better if we relate our literature to our experience and work out our own cultural paradigms/theories.


Education revolution in North-East
by S.P. Dhawan

Education in North-East India by Nikunja Behari Biswas. Shipra Publications, Delhi. Pages 180. Rs 380.

ALTHOUGH the north-eastern states often hit the headlines as hotbeds of insurgency, the fact remains that this region, comprising Arunchal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura, is remarkable for its scenic splendour, abundance and variety of fauna and flora, richness of culture and strategic location. It has been colon sad by the people of the Mangolian origin and the culture has witnessed the entry of Aryans in the same way as in the north-western part of the country. Many of the earlier migrants moved into Bengal and mingled with the Dravidians and the Aryans who were already there, and in course of time, the bree-ding through marriage, culture, exchange of ideas and values led to the emergence of a new people.

The author, Nikunja Behari Biswas, has first-hand knowledge of this area, particularly in the sphere of education, as he is a Reader in the Department of Education, Assam University, Silchur. Earlier he had worked in Arunchal University, Itanagar. The work under review is a study of the development of education in the entire North-East with special reference to Arunchal Pradesh. It is an admirable endeavour to acquaint the readers with not only education in the modern period but also the system in ancient times.

According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, school education is a human right, as it develops the basic abilities of a person to live a full life. It thus enables him to refine himself as an individual and to become a responsible worker and citizen. Education thus creates and effectively sustains incentives, personal objectives and occupational skills in the socio-economic cultural system.

There is no evidence to show whether the non-Aryan indigenous people had a formal system of education before the arrival of the Aryans. It is, therefore, possible that formal education, except the hereditary professional learning, was introduced by the Aryans who reached the north-eastern region about 2000 years ago. Consequently, ancient Assam turned into an Indo-Aryan language-speaking zone and adopted the Vedic system of education based on the gurukul concept and offering study of philosophy, aryurveda, astrology, arts, crafts and dancing. The Buddhist education also came to Assam from Nalanda. In the medieval period pathshalas became important centres of formal or institutional learning.

The scene began to change with the advent of Christian missionaries from America, England and Holland, etc. They set up formal schools in Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Mizoram and other hilly terrains of the region. The dialects of the different tribes were developed into full-fledged languages like Khasi, Garo, Bodo and Mizo. The first printing press, and the first newspaper in the region also owed their origin to these missionaries.

This contributed to educational upliftment of the region, and astonishingly, the average literacy percentage for the whole of the North East minus Arunchal Pradesh rose to the national level. It has continued to rise ever since. In 1991, Mizoram could boast of a literacy rate of 81.25 per cent next only to Kerala (90.31 per cent). Among non-Christian missionary groups, the Rama Krishna Mission and the Vivekananda Society have also worked vigorously to spread education in the area.

Biswas has painstakingly compiled and analysed data to show how this region has registered a significant progress at various levels in the sphere of education both before and after independence. The gross enrolment ratio, an NCERT survey of 1993 shows, varies between 82.88 (Assam) and 92.13 (Mizoram) against the national average of 95.32 for every 100 children at the primary level. Despite the high drop-out rates for girls from classes I to X, the average female literacy rate compares favourably with many other parts of India.

But at the level of higher and technical education, the picture is not so rosy, as infrastructural support is inadequate. Things are, however, likely to change for the better as the Centre has realised the need to take concrete measures. Central universities have come up in Assam, Tezpur and Nagaland. The UGC and the IGNOU have also begun playing their role in the region. To impart technical education, a regional engineering college has come up at Silchar. The Institute of Science and Technology is imparting instructions for 19 courses leading to the certificate, diploma and degree levels. The Government of India has also set up an IIT at Guwahati in Assam.

One serious deficiency in this region was the unsatisfactory state of teacher education. For example, there are over 90,000 untrained teachers reflecting the grossly inadequte number of pre-service training institutes and programmes. But now corrective measures are being taken and the number of teacher training schools and colleges is going up.

Arunachal Pradesh, which receives special attention of the authorities, is spread over 83,793 sq km and has 110 tribes and sub-tribes speaking about 60 different dialects. Its educational growth is largely the outcome of the interaction of socio-economic and political factors. In the early days the monastic education imparted by Buddhists had a marginal impact on the general scene of education. The formal system of education began only in 1947 when two lower primary schools were started and since then there has been steady progress at the elementary, higher secondary and college levels. It is interesting that prior to the setting up of the Arunachal University in 1984, colleges of Arunachal were affiliated to Panjab University. Programmes have also been planned and implemented to achieve higher literacy through adult and non-formal kinds of education. In respect of technical education, however, Arunachal Pradesh has still to depend on other states, as higher courses are not yet available in its institutions.

Though the Arunachal government offers several incentives and enormous facilities, the percentage of drop-outs is high, as the poor agriculturists need the help of their children in the fields.

It is good to learn that women in Arunachal Pradesh, as in the other parts of the country, are coming forward in increasing numbers to receive education and to enter various professions. This is bound to create a healthy climate for the socio-economic and cultural advancement of the state.

The author has done well to emphasise the traditional culture of the Arunachal tribes, on the one hand, and their realisation of the need to join the mainstream, on the other. The work will be useful for those connected with and interested in the study of the region with special emphasis on the role of education. One, however, wishes that linguistic and printing errors had been removed in a scholarly work of this nature.


Masjid and its environs

This is a chapter from "Delhi: Development and Change" by I. Mohan and brought out by A.P. H. Publishing, New Delhi

AS a teenaged boy when I took admission in the architecture school I was asked to sketch a mosque from a library book. In those days, my school bus happened to pass by the Jama Masjid. Imagine, for months, I thought that it cannot be the mosque photographed in the library book as that cannot be so close to me and moreover cannot exist in such a crowded area. It was something very psychological, I could not help feeling that. But now the mosque is very dear to me. I wander it in my every breath. I hug it, kiss it. From the 11th floor of 22-storeyed Vikas Minar, Ilook at it, and find its little white dome and minarets superb, rising distinctly above all green and green.

Every walled city had a strong nucleus, besides having a strong economic base which pulls up the entire society and tie it up in a chain. The Jama Masjid was such a place that acted as a focal point in the city. There is, however, no match to the size, scale and grandeur of Delhi’s Jama Masjid in history.

The entire surrounding bears a festive look. Real life we do find there. Great hustle and bustle is there. Specially the evening scene is marvellous when you find people gossiping in groups, narrating their day’s achievements to their friends. Children play in dry tanks with joy. You also find a number of tantriks selling black threads, rings, stones and so on. Nearby are sold birds in a regular market. You would find leather goods and woollen clothes in informal markets.

A great drama greets you as you approach its footsteps. From a distance, the steps of Jama Masjid do not appear to be so dominating but as one comes closer, its giant size is gradually revealed and when one is close to the mosque, one really feels himself very small in scale. At the steps one finds a number of vendors selling beef, mutton, biryani, romali roti, and rice in artistic large-size pots called degchis. That is the grace of the area which has withstood generations. Of course the nearby underground market has since accommodated all such stuff now.

Must be in early times the mosque’s location was decided by the moghuls in relation to the Red Fort, with intermediate links of a bazaar, usually called the Meena Bazaar or Khas Bazaar that occupied a large area in front of it. Second, it must have been a grand plaza, with Jama Masjid kept at the centre and residents occupying positions in the surrounding lanes and bylanes. Here now have come up regular markets like Chawri Bazaar, Matia Mahal, Nai Sarak, Kinari Bazaar and so on. The mosque was visible from all corners of the city and one could even offer prayer from his residence. Such authenticity did it command that it dominated all other mosques in the area.

The Jama Masjid was built by Shahjahan at a cost of Rs 10 lakh. Its foundation was laid on October 6, 1550. The architect was Ustad Khalil. Five thousand workers were daily employed on it. It was completed in six years. There are three gateways which are 15 metres high. It resembles the Moti Masjid at Agra. The minerets are 39 metres high.

The environs of the Jama Masjid have become very much crowded as all vacant pockets remain filled. From the side of the Darya Ganj overbridge, as one proceeds towards the mosque along the Victoria Hospital, an angular vision of the mosque is revealed, which gradually magnifies as one comes closer to it. the Subhas Park lies towards the north of it touching the mosque which with time has very much degraded.

The Kala Mahal, an important residential area, is situated on that side. The Jagat talkies is still drawing huge crowds and the same age-old vendors could be seen selling snacks during the interval. Further ahead is the area where thousands of chicken are dressed for the kitchen. It is full with odd smell and noise which is irritating.

Further in large wooden boxes you would find fish being packed for export. There are regular set-ups of ice storage and fish collecting centres. On the roads are seen vendors selling fruits, fish, mutton, jalebis and so on. A few mutton shops are located close by.

The most famous in the stretch is the Urdu Bazaar where are sold the most pious and important books in Urdu. The Kitabh Ghar is an important shop in the area. Close to it is a street called Matia Mahal which is famous for the market of carpets. The dhabhas situated in the bazaar serve food to a number of needy persons. During the Id and other festivals, the bazar is full of life, selling fine semians. The Dojana Complex lies ahead where new houses were constructed after demolishing the old structures. A few good restaurants are located closely.

There are two beautiful corners one on the north and the other towards the south of the Jama Masjid. The south one is comparatively more lively as alround it is located a large junk market (kabari bazar) where are sold mostly motor parts and other items at throw away prices. Amidst of it are located some very good hotels — Vakil and Naaz. On the northern corner are located many antique shops which are exporting goods. In between the two corners, facing the Jama Masjid lies a street called Chawri Bazar which is a wholesale market of paper and hard boards. It joins Nai Sarak, Hauz Kazi and Ajmeri Gate.

Adjoining the steps of the Jama Masjid on the north side lies one of the most widely known Ivory markets where hundreds of tourists drop every day. Previously as passages and roads were clear, more tourists were coming but now due to fencing and closing of passages and streets, the sale in the market has considerably gone down. Ahead of this market are cracker shops, which supply goods all over India in all seasons, The way further leads to Chandni Chowk through Kinari Bazar and to the Red Fort via the Parade Ground.

With time many controversies have rocked the area. Previously a number of shops that had come up all along it and spoilt its appearance were demolished by the authorities which further were rehabilitated in an underground market situated closeby. Soon, there flourished the same early environment and vendors again came up on the footpath and built regular kiosks. Along the Parade Ground an identical informal environment is built, where a market of birds, leather goods and woollen clothes has come up.

The Jama Masjid environment unfortunately has been very poorly planned. All around for security reasons regular iron grills have been put up and police pickets have come up at various places. Specially from the ivory market side it gives a very dull appearance. At Paiwalan, the most controvential side at one time, schools have come up.

But comparing its environ from the past to the present, culture of the area stands almost still and the same delicacy we do find of eatables sold and in the selling behaviour of the vendors. The mosque is a wonderful gathering place for the Muslim community.

The Jama Masjid environs have a vast scope for improvement and passages should be made free for pedestrian movement. The two spacious corners on the north and south could be made more beautiful by placing flower pots and leafy plants. Let high brick platforms be built for gathering purposes and let the people watch TV or hear radio from these ends. Near the Kitab Ghar, a library may be opened in some residence so that the area could become intellectually more identifiable. More cleanliness is required, for which various associations should come forward and voluntarily take up the assignments. There is no need to disturb any area like chicken market or the fish market as that has its own charm and moreover with that many other institutions are linked. Disturbing them would mean removing people from employment.

The Jama Masjid environment is a crowded one and will be more so by the end of the century. So are we taking up the needful care right now? Otherwise we will be held responsible for creating deliberate problems for the public.


This feature was published on December 24, 2000Top